Dominic West Has Had Quite The Transformation

Dominic West was born in the British city of Sheffield, in the South Yorkshire region. One of seven children, his mother was a devotee of local theater, an interest she passed on to him. In fact, he showed an early aptitude for acting and, with his mother's encouragement, began to appear in community theater productions when he was just nine years old. 

Fast forward to the present, and West has become one of his homeland's busiest and most respected actors. Ironically, despite his inherent Britishness, West is best known for his roles as Americans in two HBO series: Baltimore police detective Jimmy McNulty in the critically acclaimed crime drama "The Wire," and unfaithful writer Noah Solloway in the provocative drama "The Affair." More recently, West signed on to portray Prince Charles in Netflix's "The Crown," the streamer's hit series dramatizing the lives of Britain's royal family during the 70-year reign of the late Queen Elizabeth II. 

Through it all, West has experienced an array of twists and turns in his acting career and personal life. To find out more, read on for proof that Dominic West has had quite the transformation.

He attended a prestigious British boarding school and then herded cattle in Argentina

Dominic West's father owned a factory that manufactured plastics and had amassed enough wealth to send his son to Britain's most prestigious boarding school, Eton College. Favored by the British aristocracy, among the many famous Brits to have attended Eton are Princes Harry and William, former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, TV adventurer Bear Grylls, and actors Eddie Redmayne and Tom Hiddleston

As West told The Guardian, it was while attending Eton that his love of theater blossomed under the tutelage of Robert Freedman, head of the school's drama department, and schoolmaster Raef Pane, who taught English literature and cast West in the titular role in "Hamlet." "I remember him saying, 'Of course, you've got to do this as a profession,'" West recalled. "It had never occurred to me that [acting] could be a job or something I could get paid for."

After graduating, West decided to take a gap year before beginning university. Eager for adventure, he traveled to Argentina, spending four months training to herd cattle. "I was in the middle of nowhere, about a two-day drive from Buenos Aires," he told The Times. "I was riding all day, which suited me fine. I was up at four in the morning; we'd roast a lamb, with some wine, for breakfast, and then worked up to 12 noon. We had a siesta in the afternoon and then started working again."

He met his future wife while attending college in Dublin

Following his South American sojourn, Dominic West headed to Ireland, where he attended Dublin's Trinity College. For West, the experience proved liberating after the stuffy formality he endured at Eton. Acting continued to be a lure, and it was during his years at university that West earned his first screen credit in a short film called "Three Joes.

Trinity was also where he met his future wife, Catherine FitzGerald. "I fell in love with my wife when I was at university and I managed to persuade her to fall in love with me for about three months but then she ran away, and married someone else," West told British Vogue. "But I've been in love with her since then and still am, even more so." The couple tied the knot in 2010, with a wedding ceremony at Glin Castle, a 14th-century castle in Ireland that had been her family's ancestral home for centuries.

The castle had fallen into disrepair and was on the market to be sold when West and FitzGerald decided to take it over themselves. "The story of this place is so romantic and so melancholy," West told House & Garden of their decision not to sell. "With the sale of the house, I realized I was asking Catherine to give up her soul. She has devoted 20 years to the garden. It's at the core of her being."

He had small roles in some big movies

After graduating from Trinity College, West returned to England to attend the prestigious Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London, with plans to become a full-time actor. "I remember being mystified whenever people said, 'What are you going to do?' and I said, 'Be an actor,' and they'd say [deep theatrical voice], 'Oh, it's very hard,'" West told The Guardian. 

For West, though, it wasn't hard at all. In fact, shortly after graduating from Guildhall, he landed a small role in 1995's Ian McKellen-starring film adaptation of William Shakespeare's "Richard III." More bit parts followed, with West finding himself pretty much constantly employed — something of a rarity for an actor just starting out. West, however, landed minor roles in some major motion pictures, including the Spice Girls' "Spice World," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," a made-for-TV version of "A Christmas Carol" (starring Patrick Stewart), and playing a palace guard who has a brief interaction with young Anakin Skywalker in "Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace." 

As West told The Guardian, he had no illusions about how charmed his life has been concerning his acting career. "I've been fairly lucky," he conceded. "Unfortunately it's been a tale of intense luck and privilege. But there you go."

His big break in Hollywood came with a Sandra Bullock movie

Dominic West landed his first major role when he was cast in "28 Days," the 2000 dramedy in which Sandra Bullock starred as a journalist forced into rehab. West portrayed her British boyfriend, Jasper, who clearly had his own issues with alcohol. That movie continues to hold significance for West, as it was the project that got him his Screen Actors Guild membership card. "That was my first big film in the States," West told Backstage.

Coming from the world of theater, West's early film roles proved to be on-the-job training in the differences between stage performing and acting in front of a camera. "I found, coming from the theater and having done lots of plays, it was a big process I had to go through to learn that: The camera can read your mind. I think that's crucial advice, really," he said.

Looking back on his early Hollywood film roles, West offered a frank assessment of his abilities at the time. "I was a disaster," he told The Guardian. "I just didn't know what to do, and I couldn't be the all-American guy, I just couldn't stand it. I think it's very hard to do those parts because you have to put so much of yourself into them."

As his acting career was heating up, he joined a circus

By 1999, Dominic West's Hollywood stardom appeared to be all but assured when he took an odd detour by joining a circus. As The Guardian pointed out, this was no garden-variety circus but the avant-garde Argentinean theatrical troupe De La Guarda, in which performers are suspended by cables 40 feet above the audience. "Why did I do it?" he said in an interview with Esquire. "Wouldn't you want to run away and join that circus? It was such a sexy show."

While his decision makes little sense from a career perspective, West felt it was one of those things that, if he didn't do it then — he'd never have a chance to do again. "I'd turned 30, it was almost the millennium, and I got this urge to try some physical theatre before it was too late," he told The Guardian. Having been blown away by a performance, he asked if he could join the troupe; after five auditions, he was accepted. "I wasn't very good at the acrobatic stuff but they could see I was very enthusiastic and took me on that basis," he explained.

"Being in the circus was probably my favorite job," West told The Times. "I was allowed to fly around on ropes and run up and down walls. I was hanging around with dancers and climbers who were much more able than I was. I was very much out of my depth."

Being cast in The Wire was a game changer

All in all, Dominic West spent five months with the circus before refocusing on Hollywood. With his SAG card in hand, he quickly landed a role in "Chicago," co-starring with Renée Zellweger, followed by a supporting role opposite Julia Roberts in "Mona Lisa Smile." It was then that he heard of a gritty new crime drama in development for HBO, "The Wire," and taped his audition. "I set up a video camera in my living room and started doing my best Robert De Niro impression," he told The Guardian. "My girlfriend was supposed to be reading the other lines but she was laughing too much so I just had to leave pauses where necessary. Anyway, within 10 days I was in Baltimore shadowing a homicide cop."

When offered the role, West was originally reluctant to sign a contract that would not only tie him up for five years but would also require him to spend much of his time in Baltimore, away from his family in England. His agent, however, convinced West to take the job, assuring him that it wouldn't last for more than a single season. It wound up running for five. 

For West, "The Wire" proved to be the breakout role that propelled him to Hollywood stardom. "It's the only reason people have heard of me," he told The Guardian. "It's only been a huge, huge, very fortunate bonus."

Dominic West desperately wanted to play James Bond

Back in 2005, Dominic West was earning critical acclaim for "The Wire" when he became one of the many actors to audition for the role of James Bond, which famously went to Daniel Craig. Interviewed by Esquire in 2018, West was asked whether he saw 007 as the one that got away. "F**k no! I'm delighted now that I didn't get it," he declared. 

Discussing his audition, West remembers scoring points with his dressed-down attire, a t-shirt paired with jeans. "I remember the director, Martin Campbell, saying, 'Thank Christ you haven't turned up in a tux like everybody else.'" 

While West could look back and be thankful that he didn't get that role in "Casino Royale," he admitted that it certainly wasn't how he felt when he learned the role had gone to Craig and not him. "At the time, I really wanted to get it," he said. "I love Bond, and I was the right age for it. They asked me, 'What do you think should happen with Bond?' And I said something deeply uninspired like, 'I think he should go back to being more like Sean Connery.' I thought then that it was the best job you can do. Now, I'm not so sure. You have a year-and-a-half of hell doing publicity."

He turned down a role in Game of Thrones

Dominic West eventually returned for another HBO drama, "The Affair," but he could have been part of an even bigger show on the same network. "I was offered something on 'Game of Thrones' and unfortunately, I hadn't seen it, but my nephew and his father said, 'Gosh, "Game of Thrones" is the only great show on!' And I felt terrible, because I'd just turned them down," West said in an interview with Huff Post.

While West didn't elaborate on which role he could have played, he did hint that his character would have been situated in the frigid north, given that he would have had to spend six months in Iceland (where the show filmed scenes set north of the Wall). Still, he added, "It was a lovely part, a good part. I'm going to regret it."

According to West — who, at the time, was starring in the British TV drama "The Hour" — it was the prospect of spending all those months away from his family that influenced his decision. "My problem is, I've got four kids, and at the moment, I'm reluctant to be away from home for a long time," he explained. "I can get a lot of work in London and still be at home. That's one of the many brilliant things about 'The Hour.'"

Dominic West won a BAFTA for playing a real-life serial killer

Portraying Det. Jimmy McNulty in "The Wire" proved to be a career-making role for Dominic West, propelling him to bona fide stardom. Interestingly, he told The Times he never would have been cast in a similar role in the U.K. due to his Eton background. "It has not helped in acting," he admitted. "I get too many parts for posh blokes. That's why it was so refreshing to go to America and be cast as McNulty."

Returning to Britain after "The Wire," West discovered McNulty had widened the opportunities available to him in his homeland. That was certainly the case in 2011 when he was cast in an envelope-pushing role in the British TV miniseries "Appropriate Adult," starring opposite Emily Watson. Playing notorious real-life serial killer Fred West, the actor admitted he was very cognizant of not allowing himself to become too immersed in portraying someone so purely evil. "I don't think you ever identify with people like that," he told the Los Angeles Times. "I was pretty wary about getting in too deep. I was determined not to let him get to me."

West and Watson won BAFTAs at the 2012 edition of the annual television awards held by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. "I wasn't particularly expecting to win," West said during a red carpet interview. He jokingly added, "Someone has to win. It's nice that it's me."

Dominic West has a whole other career in theater

While Dominic West's fans have followed his career via his film and television output, they may not be aware that he's carved out a parallel career onstage. In 2006, during his hiatus from "The Wire," he returned to Britain to star in "The Voysey Inheritance," staged at London's National Theatre. Next was a 2009 production of "Life Is a Dream" at London's Donmar Warehouse.

In 2011, West was back in London's West End for a revival of "Butley," a role first played by Alan Bates when the play debuted in 1971. Later that year, he returned to his hometown of Sheffield to play Iago in William Shakespeare's "Othello," with his former "The Wire" co-star Clarke Peters as Othello. West was particularly busy onstage during 2012. In September and October, West starred in a new play, "The River," at London's Royal Court Theatre. Then, in December, he headed back to Sheffield to star as Henry Higgins in a production of "My Fair Lady." He was back onstage in late 2015, returning to the Donmar Warehouse to star opposite Janet McTeer in "Les Liaisons Dangeureuses."

These stage roles all went resoundingly better than his first. "In my first professional job in the theatre, I fell off the stage," he told ShortList, recalling that his brother was in attendance. "I remember this deathly silence broken by this lone chuckle, which of course was my brother. It was deeply humiliating."

He joined Prince Harry on a charity trek to the South Pole

Dominic West has never shied away from adventure, and in 2013, he found one — courtesy of Prince Harry. That was the year that he joined the Duke of Sussex on his Walking With the Wounded South Pole Challenge, in which Harry led a 200-mile expedition to the South Pole to raise money for Walking With the Wounded, a charity supporting members of the U.K. military who'd been injured on duty.

"It was cool," West said of the trek during a 2022 appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" As West recalled, he, along with Harry and actor Alexander Skarsgård, were the only three participants who weren't wounded veterans. "But Harry turned out to be really very artistic in sculpting the latrines," West told Kimmel, "I remember one camp we got to, and he'd already been there for a long time, and he'd sculpted, dug out of the snow, these latrines with a sort of very artistic, sort of toilet roll holder." "Did you christen his latrine?" asked Kimmel. "I certainly did: his throne," joked West.

Interviewed by ET that same year, West admitted that he and the prince had become friends but had lost touch in recent years. "I haven't spoken to him for many years," West said. "We did walk to the South Pole together with a lot of wounded soldiers, so I got to know him pretty well."

Dominic West and his wife made a public show of unity after a scandal involving his co-star

In 2020, Dominic West became caught up in a scandal when paparazzi photos caught him kissing and snuggling with Lily James, his co-star in the film "The Pursuit of Love," in which West — nearly 20 years her senior — played her father. 

West and his wife Catherine FitzGerald confronted the controversy directly, emerging together from their Irish castle. Smiling for photographers, even kissing at one point, Grazia reported that FitzGerald told the reporters and photographers assembled, "I just want to say our marriage is strong and we are still very much still together." She then handed reporters a piece of paper on which a similar message had been written. Despite rumors that a split was imminent, the couple appeared to have worked things out. The following year, FitzGerald offered a blunt assessment of her marriage to the Irish Independent. "It's had its ups and downs of course, like everybody, but we are totally devoted to each other and to our full, vibrant family life together," she said.

Amid the scandal, a quote from West's 2016 interview with The Standard resurfaced, and it hadn't aged well. "I think women should be more indulgent of affairs. I really do," West said. "It's daft to kick someone out over a fling. Isn't it? Everyone should turn a blind eye to men's behavior between the ages of 40 and 50. Let it all blow over."

He wasn't sure he'd be able to pull off playing Prince Charles in The Crown

With a new set of actors cast as the British royals for the fifth and sixth seasons of "The Crown," series creator Peter Morgan reached out to Dominic West about taking on the role of Prince Charles. Josh O'Connor portrayed the prince in the previous two seasons. West, however, found the offer to be confusing. "I said, 'You've got the wrong guy, I don't look anything like him,'" the actor told Entertainment Weekly, admitting he was a fan of the show and didn't think he'd be able to top O'Connor's performance. 

After "a year of hand wringing," West told Netflix's Tudum he decided to take the role. "One of the reasons I wanted to do the part is because I really like the guy and I'm really interested in things he's interested in," West explained.

Ultimately, West couldn't escape the simple fact that the opportunity to play the future king in a high-quality show was too good to pass up. "I realized that you've got to give it a go because you'll regret it if you don't," West told EW. "He's a fascinating man, Charles, and it's a fascinating life, and a fascinating role. I mean, apart from anything else, it's a huge show, and I loved the first four seasons. I realized that I could very happily live with this character for two years."

Dominic West's future looks bright after The Crown

With the sixth and final season of "The Crown" streaming on Netflix in late 2023, Dominic West undoubtedly has other projects lined up. One of these finds West playing another British royal, King Charles II, in the film "Monstrous Beauty." In addition, he's also signed on for a second season of the BBC series "SAS Rogue Heroes," in which he plays Lt. Colonel Dudley Clarke, the cross-dressing chief of the British Secret intelligence operations in Cairo.

Whatever West ends up doing after that, it's a given that he'll continue to follow the artistic muse that's guided him since the beginning of his successful acting career. "I've never really seen myself as a Hollywood leading man," he told The Guardian in 2008, discussing his ambivalence toward Hollywood. In that interview, the objective he stated then is likely the same one that he's stuck with throughout his decades as an actor. "My plan remains what it has always been: to do whatever comes up that seems interesting," he said.